My favorite books are the ones which grab my attention on page 1 and don’t let go until I’ve reached “the end.” The ones that take me away from dirty laundry, looming deadlines, and the myriad other things that haunt my days like moths around a porch light.
Books that take me away from the life I live and force me into another one – and do so not only once but every time I pick them up.
For me, a favorite book (as opposed to merely a “good” one) must hold my attention the second time. And the third. And as many times thereafter as I pick it up to read it over. Because I will.
My favorite books span many genres.
Michael Crichton’s JURASSIC PARK sits, dog-eared, on my shelf beside my second copy of Orson Scott Card’s masterpiece ENDER’S GAME. (The first one fell apart from over-reading years ago.)
On a nearby shelf, you’ll find nonfiction – SEVEN SUMMITS by Bass and Wells, alongside Jon Krakauer’s INTO THIN AIR, two of my favorite mountaineering tomes.
A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, Walter Lord’s classic about Titanic, sits nearby. It, too, bears the marks of many readings.
I’m onto my second copies of novels by Agatha Christie, James Rollins, Lee Child, P.D. James, and many other authors of mysteries and thrillers – some of which I’ve purchased in digital format this time simply because I know I’ll read the books until I wear them out. (I keep the tattered copies, too, I just can’t bear to ditch them.)
I’m always torn, when it’s time to read, between new books and much-loved, dog-eared friends from my “favorites” shelves. On the one hand, reading a favorite book is like slipping into a pair of fuzzy slippers – soft and warm and cozy and broken in to a perfect fit. But a new book is a potential favorite too, and the only thing I like more than re-reading a favorite book is finding a new favorite to love.
Old or new, my favorite books all have one thing in common – they kidnap me from the life I live and offer me a compelling new one. Temporarily, of course, but that’s ok. After all, when I come back home, there’s always a new adventure waiting only a page away.
What do your favorite books all have in common? Is there something that sets a book apart for you?
I’ve mentioned before that fear is an author’s constant traveling companion, and that I rely on my friends – my worry marines – to help me through. I may or may not have mentioned that I thrive under pressure and usually get sick when the stress lets up. (Sad but true – especially when I take vacations at Christmastime.)
Putting that all together, I thought I’d handle the upcoming book launch without much trouble. I’m a literary attorney, for crying out loud. You’d think I’d know a thing or two about book deals and publication.
Not so much.
Working as a publishing lawyer prepares an author for publication about as much as this I Love Airplanes video prepares you to fly – and land – an F-14.
In other words, not much.
As if to prove that Yes, Virginia, things can always get scarier, my book is launching one month after my only son graduates from high school and one month before he goes away to college – and his orientation overnight (which 70% of parents DO attend) takes place just five days after Claws of the Cat releases.
Oh, and my law partner of over ten years retired in May, making this the perfect time to open the boutique solo practice I’d been considering.
I’m not just on speaking terms with fear … at this point, it’s speaking for me.
And yet, the process has taught me some critical lessons about myself and life in general. Here’s a sample:
1. Good reviews – even national ones – will not eradicate your fear that people will hate your book.
2. However, stepping into cat puke, barefoot, at 2am WILL take your mind off the cause of your sleepless night.
4. Hot fudge sundaes offer a nicer way of forgetting your troubles. Whenever possible, go with the sundae instead of the puke.
5. Taking on ALL THE CRISES at once minimizes the number of hours you have to dwell on each, and also ensures variety in your day!
6. Remember that hot fudge sundae? That was good. Let’s have another!
7. Every person who likes your book will earn a special place in your heart FOREVER. No exceptions. You will find yourself loving people you’ve never met in person (and might never meet). This is awesome. And it helps the fear.
8. Cats are awesome. Except when they’re trying to steal your hot fudge sundae. Or puking on the rug at 2am.
9. If you have teenagers, don’t tell them about the sundae thing. They’ll remember. And they’ll use that knowledge well – and use it often.
10. By the time you reach the final month before your release, you won’t be able to count to ten without missing #3.
But perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned from this summer and this launch is this:
I will survive this fear, and when it’s your turn you will too. The fear alone won’t kill us.
And since that’s the case, remember to take time to enjoy the process (and the sundaes).
Because, at the end of the day, it’s living a dream, even if it’s scary sometimes.
Have you ever had a dream come true and discovered it was scarier than you imagined? I’d love to hear your story in the comments!
We’ve seen a lot about different motivations this week, and I’ve identified with each of my Deb sisters where motivation is concerned.
Like Deb Kerry, I work better with a buddy and best of all when I have to wedge the writing into an impossibly busy day.
Like Deb Dana, I find myself writing this post at 9:30PM on the evening before it’s due.
Like Deb Kelly, I had to slog my way through some difficult years to get to where I’m sitting now, and although, for me, writing offers release from reality and all its attendant difficulties, I still have my moments getting my butt to the chair.
But I’m committed. (And sometimes, my family says I should be…)
In January of 2010, I realized I was going to turn 40 that summer. (It’s not hard math, and I should have noticed before, but I digress.)
Forty, which for my family’s average means more than halfway through my allotted years.
Forty, and with my lifelong dream of becoming a published author not much closer than it was at 18…or 20…or 35.
That January, I made a special commitment. I would write a book a year until I died, got published, or it killed me. If that meant dying with 65 unpublished manuscripts and some real number of cats far greater than zero … so be it. I accepted the risk.
As of May 30, 2013, I’ve written four more manuscripts – a book ahead of schedule if you count Book 3 of the Shinobi series, which is currently halfway through its third full draft. In that time, the total number of days I haven’t written (or edited, which counts from my perspective) is a number lower than my age.
I don’t write every day because I love it – though almost all days I do. I don’t write every day because I have superhuman skill or motivation. Trust me, I’m hugely fallible and easily distracted.
I write because I said I would. Because I made a commitment to the voices in my head. Because “a book a year” is the goal I set and because I’m not a person who likes to fail – even if the only judge of failure is myself.
Not everyone can write a book a year. Not everyone wants to. Not everyone needs to, and perhaps not everyone should. But for me, it’s the number I chose and the one I’ll stick to.
Technically, I’ll have satisfied my commitment in 47 days, when Claws of the Cat releases and I reach that publication goal.
Except that now I’m writing a series. So, happily, I’ll continue to write a book a year – until I tell all the stories in me, until I die, or until it kills me.
Well … or until my family decides commitment is the solution as well as the problem.
What long-term commitment have you made, to yourself or to someone else? How do you keep yourself on track to follow through?
When I first acquired my reef tank, I made jokes about keeping “a box of water with rocks.” For the first three weeks, that’s all it was. A box of water with rocks I balanced atop one another to form a kind of “reef.”
Not very interesting at that stage, though I watched it every evening anyway.
Three weeks in, the live rock and live sand (meaning rocks and sand full of beneficial marine bacteria) had “cycled” enough to add a fish.
But not a seahorse. Seahorses’ delicate nature and special needs meant six more months must pass before I could add one to the reef.
I needed something hardy, yet peaceful enough to share a tank with a seahorse. To the Internet! Several hours of research later, Emperor Max came home.
In the weeks that followed, while waiting for my lights, and then for my seahorses, I spent many hours reading about the types of corals and fish that live in peace with seahorse-kind. I planned and plotted and changed my mind, until I decided exactly which corals (and how many) I could have and where to place them.
I designed my reef with all the enthusiasm of a landscape architect laying out a botanical garden. I knew, to the inch, how many corals I could place and where they all would go. This was an art form, after all, and I’d studied and thought and planned it out. I designed a reef! And I was proud.
But all my planning and craft-like precision failed to account for one important point:
Plants can’t disagree with the planter’s diagram. Animals are another story – and corals are not plants.
More than half the corals I’ve bought didn’t want to live in the part of the reef I assigned them. Fortunately, I bring them home only one or two at a time, so I have freedom to move them around a bit and find a place they appreciate. Most of the time. On two occasions, I’ve had to admit defeat and return the coral to the store (exchanging it for another) because the specimen didn’t like my tank – in one case, because the flow was wrong, and in the other … for reasons I still can’t figure out.
I thought reefkeeping was like a craft – after all, I get to use glue to secure the coral frags to the reef – but as it turns out, it’s more of an art-meets-science. 80% of it has to do with water parameters, chemistry and flow, as well as picking specimens that live well together. But that last 20% or so is really more of an art – finding the place where each coral decides it’s happy, and then not moving someone unpleasant into the neighborhood later on.
So there you have my contribution. Part art, part science – and maybe just a little bit of a craft.
When I read THE GLASS WIVES, I found myself moved by Deb Amy’s writing, drawn to her protagonist (Evie) and emotionally involved in the story and its outcome. I read the book in a single day, which is testament to Deb Amy’s writing and character-development skills. Deb Amy’s novel took me on an emotional roller-coaster in which I alternately pulled for Evie’s happiness and shared in her frustrations.
But most of all, I was attracted to Evie Glass’s love for her family and her dedication to preserving it — even when “family” suddenly meant something very different than what Evie might have chosen for herself.
THE GLASS WIVES made me examine my own definition of family and ask myself “how far would I go to ensure the well-being of the people I love.” It also made me consider (yet again) how “family” means something different to every person, and yet none of those definitions is “wrong.” For some, “family” may include only parents and children, while for others it encompasses friends, lovers, cousins, and many others with whom we choose to share our lives.
And yet, for every person, the “family” is a foundation of incomparable importance.
Robert Frost once said that “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Deb Amy’s novel demonstrates that concept … and shows how very powerful a mother’s love can be.
I’m not as strong a woman as Evie Glass. Had I been faced with the situation Evie faces — an ex-husband’s second wife, showing up at the door with her baby in tow, asking to move in and share my life — I’d have told her to hit the road. And yet, as I followed Evie’s journey through THE GLASS WIVES, I came to realize that Evie’s ability to re-define “family” for her children’s benefit (and, ultimately, her own) gives her a special strength and a level of class that I now aspire to attain.
I’ve always believed that the definition of family is both individual and vitally important. THE GLASS WIVES brings that concept – and the costs of placing a family’s needs over the individual’s desires – front and center. And although the journey isn’t always an easy one for Evie Glass, she handles the twists and turns with strength and well-written grace.
How important is your family? Would you be willing to open your heart and home to someone you didn’t initially consider a likely friend?
When I signed my contract with Minotaur for the first three books in the Shinobi Mystery series, I accepted that my cover art was out of my control. And I made a decision:
Whatever my cover looked like, I would love it.
Many authors compare their books to children, and seeing my cover art bore many resemblances to the birth of my son. I didn’t know what my son would look like (in fact, I only learned his gender a week and a half before his birth) but I knew–without question–that I would love him, no matter how funny-looking other people might find his face. (As it turns out, he’s very handsome–but it wouldn’t have mattered to me.)
I made the same decision about my book.
Whatever it looked like, I would love it.
I told myself this over and over … and yet, some fear remained. Would I love it the moment I saw it, or would I have to learn to love? Would the emotion be instantaneous, like holding my son in my arms? Or would it come slowly, like learning to drink my coffee without added sugar?
I didn’t know.
I did know that series covers often share a style or a vibe, and that the cover of Claws of the Cat would set a pattern. The subsequent covers might or might not look similar – but whether or not that happened, I knew the first one would set the tone.
My fabulous editor sent me a concept sketch before the photo shoot for my cover. I was hooked from the moment I saw it. Minotaur’s decision to feature the neko-te – a weapon favored by female ninjas (“kunoichi,” in Japanese) delighted me beyond measure. For the record, the English translation of “neko-te” is “claws of the cat” – and that isn’t coincidental.
When my editor emailed me the finished cover, I actually cried.
I loved my “baby’s” face immediately and completely.
I carried my iPad into my husband’s office at once to show him my beautiful cover art. He took one look at me, in tears, and thought someone had died. (In fairness, the last time he’d seen tears in my eyes was several years before–and someone HAD died, so it wasn’t an altogether unreasonable assumption. Shows you how often I cry.)
One extra secret I haven’t shared about my cover before: my father died six months before I started writing Claws of the Cat. He knew about my passion for fiction, and writing, but did not live to see my work in print. In addition to books (he loved mysteries) and sailing, my father’s great passion was raising roses and also cymbidium orchids. Among the orchids, his favorite ones were green with reddish-brown spots at the center … exactly like the orchids which appear on the cover of Claws of the Cat. Orchids which didn’t appear in the concept sketch my publisher sent me.
It was the orchids that made me cry when I saw it, because they fit the cover perfectly and also because they remind me of my father.
He would have loved the cover as much as I do.
Have you ever had a cover remind you of something important, or something you love? I’d love to hear your story in the comments.
As a transactional publishing attorney and mystery author, you might say secrets are my stock in trade. Most of my work involves issues I cannot talk about in public, and much of my writing … well, yeah. Can’t tell that either.
Unfortunately, I’m also a person who likes to share things.
This creates a bit of a problem.
Not so much with work – the secrets there are not my own, and I’m good at keeping other people’s confidences. More than once, I’ve had people tell me something expecting that I would leak the information. Every time, those people end up disappointed – if it’s a secret, I never tell.
When the secrets are mine, however, I have a harder time keeping them close to the vest. That’s particularly true where the “secrets” are Things That Happen in My Novels. My sleuth, master ninja Hiro Hattori, has a highly developed backstory … none of which I can tell you (yet). He does something really cool to solve the murder in Claws of the Cat – but if I revealed it, I’d ruin the story. Even the title – Claws of the Cat – has a secret meaning. But please don’t ask.
And while we’re at it, don’t ask me to tell you the name of Hiro’s kitten.
You see my dilemma.
I love writing mystery novels. I love it so much I’ll forget to eat, forego my sleep, and put off just about any other non-client-related pursuit. I love to talk about writing, and Hiro, and all of the little details that lurk in the shadows where ninjas hide.
Except that I can’t, because most of them are secrets.
And although I would love to talk about them, the worst kind of party-pooper is the one who reveals the twist in a novel or gives away the killer before the end.
I did figure out one secret that I can tell you today, however:
If you’re reading Claws of the Cat and dying to know who the murderer is, don’t skip to the final page to find out.
Why not? Because the killer isn’t revealed on the final page of the novel – but I do reveal a different secret there, so you’ll spoil that one and still not learn the answer you skipped to find.
Does that count as a secret? I hope so.
Because the ninjas won’t let me tell you anything more.
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